When looking at the Browns defense against the Ravens offense, the Browns look like they match up pretty well. On the other hand, coming up with a way for the Browns to score points on offense is difficult considering where they struggle and where the Ravens are strong. This will be a big week for Norv Turner and Rob Chudzinski to come up with a good game plan after some questionable decisions with how they approached the Dolphins game last week. The Ravens had some areas of weakness in their defense against the Broncos but while the Browns know it, so do the Ravens and they will be playing a game of chess to try to exploit those weaknesses while the Ravens will try to protect them or put pressure on the Browns to hide them. Overall, this could be another extremely difficult game for the Browns to come up with points on offense and relies on their defense to carry them long enough to persist and find ways to score points in Baltimore on the night the Ravens players receiver their Super Bowl rings.
Oniel Cousins vows to play better after melting down for all to see last week against a combination of Paul Solai, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick. As nice as that sounds, the Ravens are going to park players like Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty in front of him if he is in there. The Browns are not ruling out Shawn Lauvao but it seems more like wishful thinking than a realistic scenario that Lauvao will play this week. Although, his ankle probably got a lot better in the three hours between 1pm and 4pm last week. If Ngata is at nose, Canty will be at the left end spot but they may opt to bring in a heavy package to try to stop Trent Richardson and put Terrence Cody or Brandon Williams in the middle and Ngata on the left and in front of Cousins to just try to overpower the Browns up front.
While Mitchell Schwartz had a rough day last week, some of it was due to the fact that he was playing against an elite defensive end in Cameron Wake and the fact the guy next to him was utterly useless in Cousins. The problem is that Cousins is likely still going to be next to him and while Wake will not be there, the Ravens have a great outside pass rushing combination in Elvis Dumervil (thanks to his agent) with Pernell McPhee and Cornelius Upshaw. Keep in mind that McPhee was a player the Ravens liked before and Dumervil was an extremely happy accident. In either case, Schwartz will have another big test this week. Although he showed up to minicamp looking like an offensive lineman, Upshaw does have talent and did flash some ability last year in Terrell Suggs’ absence. Being able to be the third or even fourth outside linebacker is a nice advantage for the Ravens, not unlike what the Browns are boasting at that position. Joe Thomas is Joe Thomas but Suggs is a great player and while the expectation is fantastic protection from the left side, Suggs can still cause problems when given an opportunity.
As much as it may pain the Browns to do it and it might be a really slow grind to pull it off, the Browns might be best served to keep feeding Richardson the ball. The Ravens are going to expect it and really put a lot of pressure on it, but it might be the best chance for the Browns to find some success, try to wear on the Ravens defense and give their defense a break. If they are going to do it, they are likely going to want to run left at Arthur Jones and should probably try to use quick hitters that run behind Jon Greco. Pulling with Cousins proved to be a disaster last week and while he may try to work on it this week, it is certainly not anything that is remotely reliable. Combining that with the size of the Ravens up front, it might be their best course of action. With that said, if the Ravens keep Ngata in the middle, they may be able to find some success going to the right and running at Canty. It would not be a huge surprise if the Ravens opted to go extremely big up front, use both Cody and Ngata in a four man front and really try to clamp down on Richardson and try to bully them out of doing it and put the ball in Brandon Weeden’s hands.
In the event the Ravens do show that look, the Browns need to pass the ball and even check to some passes if they see the extra defensive lineman in the game. Lardarius Webb is likely going to shut down one of the Browns wide receivers and it remains to be seen if he will focus on one player or just wait to see who lines up across from him and take them out, since only Davone Bess seemed to be able to have much of an impact consistently last week. Last week, Webb all but took DeMaryius Thomas out of the game and the Broncos went with other receivers such as Wes Welker, who had a big game.
The one advantage the Browns have on offense is Jordan Cameron. The Ravens struggled to defend Julius Thomas and that is something the Browns will want to try to exploit that matchup. The problem for the Browns is because the wide receivers struggled last week, the Ravens are going likely going to double and perhaps even triple Cameron. Using a linebacker and likely a safety, the Ravens are almost guaranteed to use some sort of bracket coverage to take away the underneath pass and protect over the top. At that point, Cameron is going to have to go up and make those incredibly athletic catches to make plays if the Ravens are successful. The Browns might be best served to split Cameron out to try to get him some space or at least draw multiple defenders away from the box and take them out of the play, so that Richardson has more room to run with the ball or the other receivers have more room to operate. The Browns may also try to use more of Gary Barnidge this week rather than putting more receivers on the field.
With so much focus on the running game and Cameron, there are going to be opportunities for the receivers that are not being covered by Webb. Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham struggled and the Ravens safety combination of James Ihedigbo and Michael Huff did not look particularly good. It would not be a big surprise if the Ravens opt to use their rookie and first round pick, Matt Elam this week.
If the Ravens are successful with what they want to do, they are going to bully the Browns away from giving the ball to Trent Richardson, clamp down on Cameron and whichever wide out they deem the biggest threat with Webb and make Weeden beat them with his arm, throwing to the other receivers while their defensive line is really putting pressure on him the way the Dolphins were able to last week.
The one area that was underutilized last week, which is a reason to criticize the coaching staff, was using Richardson as a receiving option. As good as Richardson as is a runner, he is a dynamic receiving threat as well and getting him the ball with less defenders in front of him is always a great situation, whether with screens or with just throwing him the ball on the outside and letting him go up against defensive backs. The Ravens inside linebackers are more athletic than they were last year and while they do not miss the rotting husk of Ray Lewis on the field, they do miss Danelle Ellerbe. Daryl Smith is a fine backer but Josh Bynes is kind of a mediocre player. The good news for the Ravens is they have his replacement waiting in the wings in Arthur Brown and in many ways, it is surprising that Brown is not already the starter. Whether he can find daylight in the running game or out as a receiver, Richardson does appear to have a nice advantage once he gets to the second level, especially if the Ravens are putting a ton of emphasis on stopping Cameron, it could be a way for the Browns to make plays and gain yardage.
Ultimately, Weeden is going to have to bounce back in a big way. As bad as Cousins was, Weeden did poorly when he had time to make throws, stared down primary options and missed open receivers, was inaccurate with ball placement and seemed to rifle the football at his receivers in bad spots on short passes which was part of why he had the two deflection interceptions. The good news for Weeden is that while he showed toughness in the beating he took, it would be difficult for him to play worse than he did last week. Largely, the game plan this week might have to revolve around being persistent and keep slamming Richardson into the Ravens defense hoping he can make something happen. He did make a number of Dolphins miss tackles last week despite not gaining a ton of yardage, so if guys land their blocks, he could find daylight and make some big plays. This could open up some play action passes and some opportunities to stretch the field or just get some passes behind the strength of the defense.
It will not be easy for the Browns offense to exploit holes in the Ravens defense, but they do have weaknesses the Browns can attempt to exploit as well as simply relying on what they came into the season believing were strengths. They cannot afford to bail on Richardson and Weeden needs to make the most of his opportunities while making sure to protect the football. The Ravens have a ton of great players on their defense and while many of them did not look great against the Broncos, they could bounce back in a week way against the Browns at home with a week and a half to prepare. This is a big week for the offensive coaching staff of the Browns and winning this game would be in large part to executing a good game plan.